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An endless snowy plain. A distant traveler moves on it like a little black dot. May be, and most likely, his goal is quite ordinary. Probably he walks in deep snow from one habitation to another, or maybe he is returning home, complaining at the difficulty in walking. But from afar he seems somehow unusual on this snowy plain. The imagination is ready to adorn him with most extraordinary qualities and, mentally, to give him quite a special mission. The imagination is even ready to envy him, walking free in the fresh air, far beyond the limits of a city full of poison.

Somehow this distant figure seen from a train window remained especially clearly impressed in the memory of a bygone day when, after the winter holidays, the time had come to go back to school in the city. Many years later, in the vistas of Asia, a similar sensation arose more than once when glimpsing some distant travelers ascending the ridge of a hill or fading into the enfoldment of a valley. Each such wayfarer, who looked like a giant dwarfed by the distance, invited all kinds of conjectures within the caravan. It was discussed: Was he a man of peace? Why is his path off the road? Why is he hurrying, and why does he travel alone?

The long ear of Asia, that one which at times acts faster than the telegraph, listens carefully. The eye accustomed to the distant horizon, searchingly watches each moving point. Let us not think that this happens only because of cautiousness, tearfulness, or mistrust. The traveler in Asia is provident and armed, and ready for any rencontre. Watchfulness is generated not only because of dangers. An attentive eye will certainly be an experienced eye. It will also be accustomed to a great deal that is unusual. The eye of an experienced traveler knows that unusual things happen not only at midnight. They may take place at midday, in the bright sun, precisely when they are least expected. Inexperience, or rather heedlessness, is ready to let even something remarkable slip by, "like a goat looking at a new gate," not noticing anything special or making any deductions.

An experienced traveler in Asia is always ready for something special. He has experience in watching the weather. He will prudently consider an unexpected horse's trail which crosses the road. He will distinguish the trail of the horsemen from that of a load. The appearance of various animals or birds also will be prudently noted. An experienced traveler appreciates it when his companions understand why he turns around, or becomes thoughtful, or senses the wind on a wet hand, or anxiously looks at the horse's ears, or observes a peculiarity of gait.

Truly, when this experience in the school of life is recorded and evaluated, it is evident that it is more sensible, as well as jollier, not to travel alone. And instead of absurd superstitions there arise before you pages of original and often very refined knowledge. It is deplorable to observe how at times this knowledge is rashly and carelessly effaced. Often one had to notice how an experienced, authoritative traveler who had begun, or was about ready, to narrate something truly significant, upon looking into the eyes of those present became silent, shaking his head or hand. "No use to scatter pearls  anyhow, they will not want to understand and may even put a wrong construction on one's words." Thus, the experienced traveler will always prefer to remain silent rather than scatter knowledge to the unworthy.

How many songs and unrepeatable tales one listens to on the desert byways! Secrets are revealed that are tightly shut in the turmoil of the cities. Often I had occasion to meet former desert traveling companions in city surroundings, and it was always amazing to observe that they appeared different, less important. Their keen ears and vigilant, searching eyes were dulled, as it were, by the dust of the city. They seemed quite ordinary people. Their remarkable knowledge and breadth of horizon seemed chained by something. This is why special details of the travels are indelibly imprinted in our memories.

There are many stories about the unusual speed of transmission of news in most remote parts of Asia and Africa. I recall a story of our friend Louis Marin. In Paris on one occasion a telegram was received about the successful arrival on a certain day of a French expedition to one of the most remote parts of Africa. When friends began to calculate how much time was needed to send this news in the usual way, to their dismay, they felt convinced that this information was obviously wrong, because it could never have been transmitted in such a short time. But later it became clear that the news was correct, and the fact that it had taken such a short time was due only to the peculiar local customs. Over great distances news was transmitted by the natives, in the nighttime, by means of prearranged drumbeats oh drums or on dry wood. Such transmission has existed since ancient times among the tribes, and certain European settlers have also used it.

What romance is contained in these mysterious night Bounds, which send urgent messages from some unknown source! Just as speedily did the "Flowers of Tamerlan," the watchtowers, transmit by prearranged fires the most urgent communications.

The heart resounds to all that is unusual, and sharply stamps these most valued impressions upon the consciousness. When we see a distant traveler upon an endless snowy plain, we think that he makes his difficult journey not by chance and not without purpose. Probably he carries important news and is expected by those who will understand the signs of the future.


December 25, 1934

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